Skip to content
Give readers a window on the world. Click to donate.

The Watchlist: December 2021

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes books translated from Maltese, Mè’phàà, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Greek.


From Praspar Press | What Will It Take For Me to Leave by Loranne Vella, translated from the Maltese by Kat Storace | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 9781739994815 | UK£12.00

What the publisher says: “In Loranne Vella’s What Will It Take for Me to Leave, shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Prize of Malta, everyone is a player in a game. A multitude of figures and disembodied voices barter the terms of relationships, solve puzzles, set riddles, play hide-and-seek—they will do anything to come out on top, even cheat themselves of the truth…”

What to the ends of the word... says: “The title of this debut short story collection could therefore be translated as Behind closed doors or, as the author herself suggests, rendered more freely as “take a look inside (me).” This aptly conveys the intimate nature of Loranne Vella’s stories—most of them short vignettes bordering on flash fiction.”

What I say: Starkly told stories abut hauntingly clear photographs in this collection, making for a concentrated and immersive experience (and a solid Kate Bush reference never hurts, either). Some stories abound with sensory detail, while others winningly use imagery; there’s a relationship described in terms of the participants’ approach to assembling puzzles that says a tremendous amount in a handful of sentences.


From flipped eye publishing | First Rain by Hubert Matiúwàa, translated from the Mè’phàà by Juana Adcock | Poetry | 46 pages | ISBN 9781905233700 | UK£4.00

What the publisher says: “Written originally in Mè’phàà, First Rain is a selection of poems that emerged from the poet responding to the death of his grandmother, who declared to him in 2005, I will die in the days when the first rains come. The work mourns both the loss of a grandmother and the fading away (like her sight in later life) of a culture and language that hold so much history and pride.”

What Latin American Literature Today says: “The allurement of [Matiúwàa’s] culture grows each time someone new reads [his] poetry, there’s a need to understand what surrounds the poet, and in this way, writing also becomes an act of learning.”

What I say: The poems in Hubert Matiúwàa’s First Rain have many impressive qualities in Juana Adcock’s translation, among them the ability to pivot from the visceral into the philosophical and back again. The figure of Matiúwàa’s grandmother looms over the proceedings, acting as a guide and commentator; the result makes for a deeply felt work.


From NYRB Classics | The Strudlhof Steps by Heimito von Doderer, translated from the German by Vincent Kling | Fiction | 864 pages | ISBN 9781681375274 | US$24.95

What the publisher says: “The Strudlhof Steps is an unsurpassed portrait of Vienna in the early twentieth century, a vast novel crowded with characters ranging from an elegant, alcoholic Prussian aristocrat to an innocent ingenue to ‘respectable’ shopkeepers and tireless sexual adventurers, bohemians, grifters, and honest working-class folk.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Evocative novel of manners set in the 1920s Vienna of the shattered Habsburg Empire, originally published in 1951 and now translated into English for the first time.”

What I say: “Immersive” seems to be a running theme for this month, and The Strudlhof Steps is emblematic of that. The array of characters in Heimito von Doderer’s novel can be dizzying at times, but the innovative structure and narrative asides make this a fascinating and compelling read. Daniel Kehlmann’s afterword (translated by Ross Benjamin) does a fine job of unpacking the novel’s themes and images—and also offers a measured consideration of the book in light of von Doderer’s attraction to Nazism in the 1930s, and his subsequent disillusionment with it.


From Ugly Duckling Presse | Vice-royal-ties by Julia Wong Kcomt, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Shyue | Poetry | 48 pages | ISBN  9781946433855 | US$12.00

What the publisher says: “The title of Bi-rey-nato, Julia Wong Kcomt’s sixth poetry collection, is a homonym for ‘virreinato’ or ‘viceroyalty,’ but can also be broken down into its component words: ‘bi’ (bi/two), ‘rey’ (king), and ‘nato’ (born). Likewise, the poems in this chapbook play with binaries: in power, love, language, country, identity.”

What Poetry Foundation says: “Shyue’s deft translation manages to highlight the text’s multilingual origins, preserving the Spanish in “[c]afé con leche” and “[m]adre / hay una sola,” and choosing “madreselva” over honeysuckle for its resonance with the rest of the mothers in the collection.”

What I say: Some literary works leave the reader feeling as though they’re perched in the author’s brain, watching as thoughts and experiences converge. Vice-royal-ties brims with these kinds of moments, as with these lines: “Catacomb, torpedo. / I pray, squatting. Praying hurts.” These poems feature raw emotion in precise configurations, making for a lasting impact.


From Hoopoe Fiction | I Do Not Sleep by Ihsan Abdel Kouddous, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Smolin | Fiction | 364 pages | ISBN 9781649030986 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Written as a letter, a confession, by now twenty-one-year-old Nadia, Ihsan Abdel Kouddous’s classic novel of revenge and betrayal challenges patriarchal norms with its strong female characters and brazen sexuality, and continues to speak to the complex human condition.”

What Literary Hub says: “This shouldn’t require much more introduction than ‘This is the Egyptian Lolita’ because, when Kouddous released it in the 1950s, that’s how it was received. Both novel and film adaptation caused an uproar, with the narrator Nadia’s look back at her sixteen-year-old revenge behavior scandalous. However, Kouddous’s prose deserves more than simple comparisons to Nabokov’s.”

What I say: I Do Not Sleep bristles with a propulsive, pulpy energy that makes it hard to put down. Narrator Nadia is a complex figure throughout, both stymied by her society’s sexism and methodically manipulating nearly every character she encounters. This novel’s plot and themes offer plenty to ponder long after the last page has come and gone.


From Penguin Classics | The Archeologist and Selected Sea Stories by Andreas Karkavitsas, translated from the Greek by Johanna Hanink | Fiction | 272 pages | ISBN 9780143136248 | US$17.00

What the publisher says: “The work is an allegory of Greek nationalism that is stylized as a folktale about Aristodemus and Dimitrakis Eumorphopoulos, two brothers and descendants of the illustrious Eumorphopoulos line. For centuries, the family had been persecuted by the Khan family, but when the Khan dynasty starts to topple, the Eumorphopoulos family resolves to regain their ancestral lands and restore their line’s ancient glory.”

What Why Homer says: “. . . I want to remind readers that Karkavitsas’s novella was written for Greek speakers at a particularly fraught, and soon to be devastatingly tragic, moment in their history. This moment is both unique and transcendent, hence the challenge and the reward respectively of reading the collection.”

What I say: This volume joins two distinct bodies of work that converge with one another in unexpected ways. The Archeologist is a fascinating and stylized novella that both riffs on real-world history and gives it the gloss of a folktale. The sea stories that conclude the volume are rife with mysterious creatures and uncharted territory, and at their best, they possess a haunting and mysterious power.

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

Published Dec 23, 2021   Copyright 2021

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.